Some memories of affection stick out for me.
1. My father grabbing my hand and crossing a busy road near Serangoon Central. I was perhaps 13 or 14? The age is inconsequential but what matters was that I was old enough to find it odd after so many years of not having my hand held, yet young enough that it was not a strange sight.
My mother from a young age had repeatedly warned me never to let any man, or male, even my father, touch me in any way. And so, I am bereft of any memories of physical contact with my father or brother. This was couched as for my own protection at the time, and I see the wisdom in that, and yet to have grown up this way I have severely lacked experiences of hugging or physical affection from my family.
This is why this instance stuck out for me. Because for whatever reason, my father had done something utterly out of the norm.
2. A church friend, after we had gone through a session on the 5 languages of love that was so in vogue at the time, told me that I had to work on that aspect of love dealing with physical contact. She had observed that I would cringe slightly when she hugged me. You know that slight cringe where you put minute distance between yourself and the hugger? I was doing it subconsciously because, as explained in point 1, it was an unusual experience.
This revelation appalled me. I’d like to think of myself as an affectionate person, not extremely so, but affectionate enough. And it made me cringe inwardly all the times she must have felt I was pulling away from her unknowingly.
And after that gentle admonition, I always tried my best to give full, proper hugs. Not that awkward sideway, one-armed hug. Proper hugs. And to give more hugs. Because people more often than not, need more hugs.
A colleague expressed his discomfort for people of the same gender holding hands openly. Obviously I disagreed, because, why shouldn’t people hold the hand of whomever they wished to? I had held the hands of girls for many reasons, love and friendship. So I would be the last person to agree with such homophobia, or lack of cultural nuance.
But back to my point. Human affection. Human affection is simple to give, but so, so hard to actually give it. And sometimes, from personal experience, so hard to receive it too. If humans were more affectionate, would the world be happier? Would relationships be better? Would we achieve something beyond ourselves because we share a moment? If people had more shared moments, wouldn’t we then strive for something beyond our selves?
I have since resolved that should I ever have children, I would break away from the pattern of non-affection. I would cuddle them, hug them, kiss them, show them that love should be expressed freely, and that love should also be given freely. A world bereft of affection is a world withered from love. And that is a sad thing. What do you do when someone is sad? You hug them. Hold their hand. Ruffle their hair. Touch their skin, and share your common humanity.